Burnsville’s Helm is new president of state association
Eight years ago Holly Helm didn’t know what a crime analyst was.
In January she became president of the Minnesota Association of Criminal Intelligence Analysts, with ideas for continuing to develop her rapidly growing profession.
A data whiz who spent six years in active duty military intelligence, Helm was hired as the Burnsville Police Department’s crime analyst in 2015.
Since then she’s been on a perpetual learning curve, earning master’s degrees in criminal justice and data intelligence-geoanalytics to go with her bachelor’s in psychology.
Her duties in Burnsville range from organizing and analyzing reams of data to help solve crimes to tracking the tools and methods of scam artists — such as the person or people who lately have been posing as Burnsville police sergeants over the phone to try to purloin gift card purchases from victims.
“The scammers are smart about what they’re doing,” said Helm, whose boss, detective Sgt. Shaun Anselment, has had his name used in a number of the fraudulent calls. “They’re using a real sergeant’s name, obviously. There are other details where, I’m not surprised that someone was fooled. I’ll just say that, I guess.”
Raised in Eagan, Helm went straight from Eastview High School into the Air Force, training and working as a language operator and analyst while earning her bachelor’s degree.
After leaving active duty Helm used her military intelligence background to land government and private-sector consulting contracts on the East Coast.
“I learned how to analyze all kinds of data and kind of surface important insights for whatever the goals were for the client,” Helm said.
Returning to Minnesota, she spotted the open position for a Burnsville police crime analyst.
“Being a cop was never for me,” Helm said. “I’m more of a data nerd, a spreadsheet person. I like doing data analysis. ... I didn’t even know that crime analyst was a job until I was ready to come back home to Minnesota just to be near my family.”
The job struck her as “a really cool way to apply my data analysis skills to public safety and kind of help the community I grew up in.”
She works in the department’s investigative division and, Helm said, does a bit of everything the job of crime analyst might entail.
“I do a little less at Burnsville of the sort of telling patrol where to be and when,” she said. “Other departments, that’s more of a priority for them. It’s one of those things that once you hire an analyst, you realize all the other things that an analyst can do. We have enough work for several analysts here, and it’s really just kind of prioritizing what I’m spending my time on.”
In cases with large amounts of data — whether phone records, bank transactions, physical locations or social media message histories — Helm organizes it and presents it to investigators in a visually digestible form to help zero in on suspects.
She follows up on other data, such as surveillance footage or license plate numbers, to identify suspects and track down where they might be found.
Helm is also in frequent contact with her counterparts in other departments.
“There’s about 150 analysts in Minnesota,” she said. “We share information constantly.”
In one case investigators were trying to establish the past whereabouts of a man whose ex-significant other reported that he had pulled a gun on her.
Questioned by police, the man said he wasn’t at the scene at the time in question. Police obtained a search warrant from his employer for GPS tracking records to match against his cell phone records, Helm said.
The phone records appeared to confirm he was in the vicinity of the crime scene at the time in question, but that didn’t match the employer records, Helm said.
Then she discovered the employer records were based on another time zone. When adjusted by two hours, the two sets of records matched.
“We could confirm that the alibi he gave us was not necessarily true,” Helm said, noting that the case remains open.
“That’s my thing, is kind of diving deep into the data and finding the interesting pieces that might help the case,” she said.
She had a hand in developing the Burnsville police Behavioral Health Unit. She assembled and crunched many of the statistics showing that mental health crisis calls had risen over the years, with many repeat callers consuming inordinate amounts of officers’ time.
Helm also helped the unit tailor its staff hours to times of the week with patterns of greatest need.
Crime analysis is “a relatively new field, and it’s growing very quickly,” Helm said. “We get a lot of interest from college students and true-crime junkies — anybody who kind of wants to work in law enforcement or public safety but especially behind the scenes, and do some of the digging and data analysis stuff.”
As the president of her state association for the next two years, Helm said her goal is to heighten learning between members.
“We’re going to be creating a mentorship program so some of the more veteran analysts can mentor the newer analysts, or vice versa, to be honest,” Helm said. “Some of the newer analysts are coming from the private sector or from business analytics or maybe private investigation or military intelligence, and have a lot to share with people who’ve only been in law enforcement.”
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